Auto Show MobilityTalks spotlights AVs on Capitol Hill in DC

The 2018 Washington Auto Show (WAS) MobilityTalks International on Capitol Hill, Jan. 23, in DC revealed that there is no agreement on the basic question of consumer acceptance of autonomous vehicles.


When panel moderator David Shepardson of Reuters said that polls show Americans are deeply skeptical about AVs, Dr. Oliver Carsten, professor at the University of Leeds (UK), countered, “I don’t think we should believe anything people say. People simply don’t understand the technology.”


John Maddox, CEO of the American Center for Mobility, agreed. “Once you’ve experienced an autonomous vehicle, you really do begin to appreciate it,” he said.


Safety is a compelling reason for the technology, Maddox said, quoting a figure heard often during the MobilityTalks, that 93 percent of car crashes are caused by humans.

The timing of autonomous vehicles is still unclear. Perhaps the biggest proponent of AVs at the session was Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), who exclaimed, “This is the biggest thing in the car industry since the first car rolled off the assembly line.


“Nobody understands how fast this is happening,” said Peters. Ford has announced its first self-driving vehicle will come off the assembly line in 2021. “Because of the transformative effect, the industry must get it right, or there will be significant consumer blowback.”


Shepardson asked the panel how we will prepare for a day with no car crashes.


“I don’t think we will ever reach that point,” said Maddox. “We will have a long, long time where humans will remain in the vehicle and on the road.”


The panel touched on a variety of changes that AVs could bring. Carsten foresees “new concepts of shared space,” where vehicles could drive in a platoon-like formation, with space between them.

“There’s a lot of potential for new careers and changed careers,” said Maddox.


“We may not be repairing as many fenders,” said Carsten. “We will be repairing sensors.”


Sen. Peters said it was important not to let federal regulations stand in the way of AV innovation. The House and the Senate Commerce Committee have passed the DRIVE Act, which would let automakers put 100,000 AVs on public roads in four years. The bill also ensures that federal law would not pre-empt state law.


Also on the panel were Rachel Bhattacharya, director of corporate finance at General Motors, and Wang Xiaojing, director of the China National Center of ITS Engineering and Technology.

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